on January 3, 2002
The name Nikos Kazantzakis is anathema to so many; countless Americans probably only know him as the man who authored the book "The Last Temptation of Christ" on which the controversial (and widely demonized) movie was based. There was much more to this man than met the eye, however. Such Americans don't know the reader of Nietzsche and Bergson, the man who idolized both Christ and Lenin as saviors of humanity, the brooding genius whose incisive glacial intellect was perpetually at war with the hot blood of his idealism and passion. A fascinating and fragmented character who ascended the peaks and explored the dark valleys of human experience more than most, Kazantzakis commits pen to paper here with a spirituality that will haunt the reader; it is more alive and explosive than any camp-meeting revival. Writing with a distinctly modernist tone of world-smashing and revolution akin to Marx and with a racy, frenetic, hot-blooded pace which D.H. Lawrence would've admired, Kazantzakis introduces us to HIS idea of God: not the friendly father figure of Christian lore, but the turbulent, primordial drive for life and change within the universe, striving (successfully, through sometimes violent fits and starts) to ascend, to create, to thrive, to "transubstantiate matter into spirit". More akin to Bergson's idea of "elan vital", this is a series of spell-binding meditations that most mainline believers of any stripe probably wouldn't like; precisely because it scares the living daylights out of you with its frightening possibilities and its sirens' call of seemingly chaotic life-affirming zest. The late Kazantzakis beckons to us across the void, urging us to take the plunge and gaze into that vortex without fear, even though we will lose all we are in the process.
on May 8, 2005
Written about 1923, this seems to me the greatest spiritual expression of all his works. Nikos knows the Christ of the SWORD, action, dynamis. He says, "The essence of God is struggle." He knows that we are experiences OF God, in a grand struggle. Each is a god in his own play, struggling and warring, loving and hating, EXPRESSING God fully and genuinely - and all that without hope, believing that nothing truly exists. The alternative is to acquiesce and find contentment in non-struggle, lukewarm, doomed, and worthless. For a reader who still thinks religion is compatible with spiritual realization, this book will offend you. For one who has challenged all the boundaries, here is a flying carpet to something much higher.
on November 4, 1997
In this bewildering time of new-age quasi-sophistication or reactionary conservative histrionics regarding spiritual matters, Nikos Kazantzakis's "The Saviors of God" sparkles as a diamond amidst an overwhelming sea of trash. Ours is an age of excess, spiritually and materially (and all too often this line is blurred by televangelists and the like), and we, as a people, properly crave a spiritual instruction that lifts us gratefully above the banality surrounding us: a recent bumper-sticker shows the Christian fish symbol (the Greek letter alpha) "eating" a Darwin-fish (a fish with legs), and Bob Dylan once wrote of "flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark." Kazantzakis's "The Saviors of God" is a truly illuminating underground masterpiece (comparable to the American poet H.D.'s startling "Notes on Thought and Vision"), employing Kazantzakis's usual muscular language and profoundly penetrating insight into what being human really means. Although written as prose, it reads as poetry; and spirituality is not, for this Greek giant, sickly (goofily) sweet or insultingly strident, but, rather, careful, intense, intelligent, and passionate. It is this "passion" that drives every word Kazantzakis wrote, and in "Saviors" his passion is carefully distilled into a short and readable text that will, quite simply, never be forgotten by any who has licked its honey. For this is the "mad honey" consumed by the priestesses of Delphi, and when Kazantzakis writes of thought being a "bird of flame" hopping from branch to branch, one knows that one's own head is equally ablaze. So, lay aside your Bibles, your Korans, your Torahs...and prepare yourself to tremble, for "The Saviors of God" is a spiritual earthquake composed not of stern admonitions (yawn) or threats, but of humility before the gift of divinely-composed flesh. Lust, herein, is not a sin, but is instead the holy of holies.
on March 10, 2016
The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is most known for his novels “Zorba the Greek” and “The Last Temptation of Christ”. The latter has been turned into a controversial film featuring David Bowie! “The Saviors of God” is sometimes described as Kazantzakis' spiritual testament, and contains his ideas about religion and spirituality. The 1960 Touchstone edition contains a lengthy introduction by Kimon Friar.
The philosophy of Kazantzakis turns out to be a combination of Nietzsche and Bergson, perhaps with a whiff of Zorba. A certain kind of Hindu-Buddhist Tantrikas might also resonate with the contents of “Saviors of God”. Parallels to Aurobindo could be postulated. More disturbingly, the ideas in this little book could be given a fascistic spin.
“God” in Kazantzakis' system isn't a personal being, but rather a vitalistic force permeating all matter. Humans are simply one more manifestation of this élan vital. They are the “highest” at the moment, but cosmic evolution is relentlessly moving forward and upward, making it imperative that Man ascends and gives birth to more spiritual beings. Otherwise, Man will simply be crushed by the forces of evolution, as pitilessly as many other forms of life have already been crushed and disappeared. Contradicting this, Kazantzakis also asserts that God (i.e. the world spirit or vital force) needs to be “saved”, by which the author means that it's incumbent upon every single human to ascend and evolve. Here, suddenly the cosmic evolution depends upon each one of us.
The author also asserts, more than once, that success isn't guaranteed. The “salvation of God” could very well fail, since there are constantly two forces in operation in the cosmos, the second one being that of descent. At one point, Kazantzakis compares them to Eros and Thanatos. He also explicitly says that his “God” is neither all-knowing, all-good nor omnipotent. Whether or not there is anything “behind” the cosmos and the vital force is less clear. My guess is probably not, “God” and Man dancing above a nirvanic (or Nietzschean?) void.
Evolution doesn't have a real “purpose”, except the purposes we chose to give it. Kazantzakis believes that we should attempt to spiritualize matter. Exactly what this means isn't altogether clear. The author supports the modern-Western idea of conquest of nature, asserting that minerals, plants and animals are “spiritualized” when harnessed for the use of man.
The most disturbing parts of the book sound like paeans to death, destruction, war and revolution. Kazantzakis began writing “The Saviors of God” during his nominally “Communist” period, but most readers would find probably find better parallels in fascist literature. It's also interesting that Kazantzakis himself wasn't the brave heroic type, but rather a confused intellectual suffering from all kinds of psychological problems and psycho-somatic diseases. The strong emphasis on Eros (including the purely sexual aspects) stand in stark contrast to the author's sexual inhibitions. While none of this “disproves” Kazantzakis, it nevertheless makes you wonder what kind of troubled soul we are dealing with here!
I don't deny that Nikos Kazantzakis saw something, but what exactly did he encounter during his mystical depressions, described at length by Friar in the introduction to the 1960 edition? Apart from the void and tempest within himself, I suppose the Greek author also got a glimpse of the spiritual essence of the fallen world. He even heard its cries for salvation. Yes, the fallen world wants to be saved, but Kazantzakis can't save it. He simply wants to merge with it and participate more fully in the merry-go-round of temporary “creation” and permanent destruction…
I will nevertheless give “The Saviors of God” five stars, since it so eminently spells out the consequences of a certain kind of “spiritual”, amoral-evolutionary worldview.
on December 3, 2001
"Nonsense" is a very draft and cruel word to characterize an attempt to describe the CHAOS. For that's what this book is. How can one describe the Chaos, the human agony for the purpose of life? Every time you visualize yourself as a tiny dot (equals to nothing compared to the universe) and you ask the all-time-big-questions, you fill the fear. If you want to ease your heart, read the bible, or whatever the holy book of your religion (we all do in times of despair). You will be reassured for the absolute truth for all your questions and fears. But if you want to keep your eyes open and dare to look at the chaos this book will be a good companion. It is not perfect, but is the best attempt I know. Using Kazantzakis' words from "Report to Greco", the author is "facing the chaos and says I like it!"
on August 6, 2015
The Saviors of God has been one of my favorite books for fifty years. I am happy to have it in digital form. It is a very serious effort on Kazantzakis to offer a secular spirituality to agnostics and atheists. It touched me long ago and I have read it many times. Thanks for this gift.
on October 15, 2010
"Saviors of God" was the first "spiritual" book I read as a teenager and, although I've bought and recycled thousands of books over the years, I've kept this one with me throughout my life-journey. Although I've come to disagree with some aspects of it, I also disagree with those who discount it as not reflecting Kazantzakis' personal philosophy and passion. At its essence I can liken this volume only to Sri Aurobindo's "Savitri" in its message and grandeur. It is we who have imprisoned God, we who have projected our subconscious shadow side onto the Essence of the Universe and parodied it into a Cosmic Parent Figure -- And that Essence, which is also the Essence of us, screams within us for liberation and expression. Kazantzakis was excommunicated from the Greek Church for his views and writings, and finished his life in self-imposed exile on Naxos; the world of spiritual readers and seekers owes him a debt of gratitude, for sure. His gravestone reads, "I want nothing, I fear nothing: I am free."
on March 14, 2002
I really like the author and I saw this book in a used bookstore and didn't get it. But then I couldn't get it out of my mind. So I went back to get it and I'm glad I did. It is a strong and moving book. He expresses the thoughts of someone who sees nothing but God. His life is God. This has nothing to do with any religion, as it is above a set of rules or beliefs. I can relate to him. Get the book if you can.
on February 13, 2012
This is one of those books that, if read at all carefully, will make a profound impact on a thinking person's life. I read it 35 years ago, talked it over with the psychologist who was my supervisor/mentor for in-service training, and found that he, too, was mesmerized and dumbfounded by its ideas.
I just purchased another copy because I loaned my original and it wasn't returned. What a fabulous, disturbing, insightful, question-filled read.
Not for the faint of heart, this book will challenge you like few other books.
on July 2, 2016
Important for those of us who loved Zorba, the last temptation, and Greco. Monumental.